With an especially miserable end to the 2019-20 school year, education officials are scrambling to reopen schools this fall as part of phase three of Governor Gavin Newsom’s pandemic recovery plan. Safety, though—as COVID-19 will surely still be present—is the number one criterion to be met as children and teachers are planning a return to campuses.

In Malibu, Pepperdine University has already announced it is planning in-person education to resume this fall. The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is grappling with just how to safely reopen schools, if it is possible at all. Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati released a memo last week outlining procedures that would need to take place while describing what schools reopening could look like. Drati, other superintendents, the Los Angeles County Office of Education and the LA County Department of Public Health have convened a task force with other stakeholders to develop protocols for an in-person education system when school is set to resume August 20. 

Physical distancing and rigorous cleaning of facilities would be a top priority for the health and safety of those on campus. With many families possibly opting to continue distance learning, it could mean fewer students remaining in classrooms. That could help facilitate fewer desks in each classroom. There might be half-day scheduling with morning and afternoon sessions to keep kids separate.

Other districts have discussed having students stay at their desks including at lunch break and have even floated the idea of children playing alone, each with one assigned ball. Enforcing physical distancing with younger children could prove to be especially problematic.

SMMUSD has a survey for parents and staff about their aspirations and concerns for the future, available at: bit.ly/LearningSurvey20.

Our Lady of Malibu school has convened a COVID-19 task force as well. Parent Larken Cumberland, who holds a Ph.D. in chemistry, and another parent with an M.D. meet weekly with other community members to “shape how we want the school to be safe and welcoming to all our students.”

So far, their plan is to cap students to no more than 10 to 12 per classroom to adhere to physical distancing. Hand sanitizer bottles would be on each desk. There would be a “scrub in and scrub out” hand washing for each classroom. “What’s great about OLM is we have a lot of outdoor space,” Cumberland pointed out. The task force is also investigating making its own face shields with a 3-D printer.

“Kids will be involved in helping their safety and coming up with smart ideas on how to do that,” Cumberland suggested. “Going forward, we’re going to follow the CDC guidelines.”

Of course, plans could change for all the schools in Malibu should novel coronavirus cases spike. Recent USA Today polling has also shown as many as one in five teachers may not want to return to the classroom and as many as six in 10 families with children in grades K-12 will likely pursue at-home learning this fall.

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